Halo timeline: The war for The Ark and the fate of the universe

Halo 3 artwork
Halo 3 artwork (Image credit: Bungie)

In the last article, we went over the events of the latter half of Halo 2, as the UNSC and Sangheili formed a key alliance in order to stop Tartarus from activating Installation 05 and the Prophet of Truth raced to Earth, Master Chief in tow.

Complete Halo timeline series

In this part, we're looking at the events of Halo 3, and how the UNSC and Sangheili, led by Master Chief and the Arbiter respectively, managed to defeat both the Covenant and the Flood in a final conclusive battle for the fate of the universe.

November 17, 2552 CE (Current Era): Master Chief lands on Earth

This concept art for Halo 3 depicts Master Chief falling to Earth after leaping from the Prophet of Truth's Forerunner Dreadnought.

This concept art for Halo 3 depicts Master Chief falling to Earth after leaping from the Prophet of Truth's Forerunner Dreadnought.

About two weeks after the conclusion of Halo 2, the Prophet of Truth arrived at Earth with his Forerunner Dreadnought and armada. Knowing that Truth was not aware of his presence on his ship, the Master Chief attempted to infiltrate it and assassinate him. However, he was unable to land a killing blow due to Truth's energy shield and was forced to retreat when more of Truth's guards arrived. Left with no other option, Chief leaped off of the ship and fell to Earth's surface, landing in a forest in Kenya.

His MJOLNIR armor, with its shock-absorbing gel layer and lockdown systems, allowed him to survive the colossal fall. Shortly after landing, he was found by Sergeant Johnson and the Arbiter, who had taken a ship from Installation 05 and arrived on Earth prior to Truth and his forces.

Master Chief's armor allowed him to survive his massive fall from orbit.

Sergeant Johnson and some of his Marines split off from Chief and Arbiter in order to throw off the Covenant forces searching for them, but were unfortunately captured and held in a nearby Covenant forward operating base. Master Chief and Arbiter fought their way to the base and eliminated all of the Covenant inside, freeing Johnson and the Marines. All of them were then picked up by a Pelican dropship sent by Commander Miranda Keyes and flown to the nearby UNSC base, Crow's Nest.

The Covenant find the portal to The Ark

Shortly after arriving at Crow's Nest, Miranda Keyes explains to Master Chief that Truth is looking for The Ark, which could be used to fire all of the Halo rings after they were set in standby mode when she, along with Johnson and Arbiter, stopped Tartarus. She, along with the UNSC Fleet Admiral Lord Terrence Hood, believe that the thing the Covenant are digging for in Africa is The Ark, and they plan to launch a desperate air strike on the Prophet of Truth's ship in order to kill him and hopefully thwart the Covenant.

However, shortly after discussing this, the Covenant launched a surprise raid on Crow's Nest. Master Chief and the Arbiter both bravely defended the base alongside Marine comrades, but it eventually was overrun and subsequently evacuated. In order to deny the Covenant all of the information stored at Crow's Nest, Master Chief arms a bomb, narrowly escaping its blast by taking an elevator to an underground shelter.

After linking up with other Marines who went to the same location, Master Chief and company mount up with a pair of Warthogs and lead a counter-attack through the Covenant forces that established a perimeter around the outskirts of Crow's Nest. After cutting through the defensive line, the rallying force made their way to the town of Voi, picking up any survivors found.

In order to successfully launch the attack on Truth's Forerunner Dreadnought, the Covenant anti-aircraft emplacements throughout the town needed to be eliminated so that the UNSC warships could fly close enough to hit the ship directly. Chief, alongside his Marines allies and Arbiter, fought their way through Voi and were able to accomplish this. With the airspace clear, Lord Hood was able to send in three UNSC frigates and a contingent of Shortsword bombers to strike at the Forerunner Dreadnought directly.

Unfortunately, the MAC blasts and explosives did little-to-no damage to the ancient warship. Directly after this, Truth used his ship to activate what the Covenant had uncovered, which turned out to be a portal to The Ark, not The Ark itself. As he and the entirety of his fleet entered this new slipspace rift, a Flood-infested Covenant vessel exited slipspace nearby, crash-landing directly into the heart of Voi.

The Flood spread through Voi

For a time, the Flood only faced minor Marine resistance in Voi, allowing them to spread quickly and infect all of the corpses from the recent battle.

For a time, the Flood only faced minor Marine resistance in Voi, allowing them to spread quickly and infect all of the corpses from the recent battle.

The arrival of the Flood on Earth was an extremely worrying development — if left unchecked, the parasite could infect the entire planet within hours. Knowing this, Master Chief, Arbiter, and the UNSC forces at Voi acted fast; their plan was to attempt to fight their way to the ship that the Flood had arrived in and to blow its reactor in order to eliminate the source of the Flood. Halfway to their objective, Sangheili forces arrived, led by Shipmaster Rtas 'Vadum. A Sangheili Major explained to Master Chief and the Arbiter that when the Flood ship broke through their blockade around High Charity, they followed the ship with all of their forces to try and prevent the Flood from spreading.

With the assistance of the Sangheili reinforcements, Master Chief was able to reach the ship and get inside. Before blowing the reactor, though, he noticed a recorded message from Cortana on the ship, who was currently being tortured by the Gravemind since she had been left behind on High Charity. Additionally, 343 Guilty Spark, who had come with the Sangheili reinforcements, went inside after Chief and attempted to make peace with him despite everything that had happened on Installation 04.

343 Guilty Spark was able to repair the communication module Cortana had sent, which allowed the UNSC and Sangheili coalition to hear about a potential solution to the Flood threat.

After setting the reactor to blow, Master Chief, Arbiter, Commander Miranda Keyes, Lord Hood, and 343 Guilty Spark all traveled to Rtas 'Vadum's ship, the Shadow of Intent, to discuss what to do next while the Sangheili fleet glassed the infected parts of Africa in order to quell the infection on Earth completely. Guilty Spark was able to get Cortana's communication module working properly; her message stated that there was a solution to the Flood on The Ark that wouldn't involve firing all of the Halo rings and wiping out the universe.

She also said that the Flood were planning to assault Earth with the full might of the Flood-controlled High Charity, which was now unguarded as the Sangheili forces had abandoned their blockade. Ultimately, it was decided that a small fleet of human ships and the entire Sangheili fleet would travel through the portal to The Ark, defeat the Covenant, and figure out what Cortana's solution was, while what remained of the battered defense fleet would be left at Earth to try and hold off the Flood invasion.

December 11, 2552 CE: The Battle of Installation 00

Upon arriving at The Ark through the portal, the Sangheili and human forces were immediately engaged by the Prophet of Truth's own fleet. Despite being outnumbered three-to-one, the Sangheili were able to gain the upper hand in the naval battle, thanks in part to having better strategists and tacticians than the Jiralhanae. With the space battle going well, the UNSC was able to land their initial forces on the surface of The Ark. Their goal was to find The Ark's Cartographer, which would show them where the Control Room was, just like Halo rings. After fighting through Covenant ground troops, Master Chief and the Arbiter found the Cartographer, and thus where the Control Room was located.

Several dropships filled with both UNSC and Sangheili troops made their way towards the Control Room, which was shielded by a barrier controlled by three towers. Master Chief and a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs) were assigned to deactivate the first tower, the Arbiter and the Sangheili attacked the second, and Sergeant Johnson and a team of Marines traveled to the third. Both Master Chief and Arbiter, alongside their troops, were able to deactivate their respective towers. However, Sergeant Johnson's Marines were killed, and he was taken prisoner. Chief, Arbiter, and their combined surviving forces successfully assaulted the third tower, finally taking the barrier down.

Once this was done, however, High Charity arrived, taking everyone by surprise as it rained down Flood forms. It turns out that the Flood weren't invading Earth, but were instead going there to use the portal in order to go to The Ark. Despite the setback, the UNSC and Sangheili pressed on, understanding that they needed to finish Truth off now while his forces were on the back foot and while his fleet was being defeated. After a bombastic encounter with two Scarab vehicles, Master Chief and Arbiter finally entered the Citadel structure that Truth was in, which housed the Control Room.

The Prophet of Truth is killed

Arbiter Thel 'Vadam silences the voice of the Covenant.

Arbiter Thel 'Vadam silences the voice of the Covenant.

Truth, mad with power and cornered by his enemies, planned to activate the Halo rings. While it's true that the Jiralhanae would be confused (and potentially enraged) by the fact that the rings didn't elevate them all on the Great Journey to godhood, Truth was willing to risk their loyalty if it meant being able to use the rings to wipe out everything in the universe that opposed his rule. To do this, he needed human, or"Reclaimer," DNA; this is why Sergeant Johnson was captured instead of killed. Commander Miranda Keyes crash-landed a Pelican into the Control Room's window and attempted to stop Truth, but was surrounded by his Jiralhanae guards and shot by Truth himself. As Keyes died, Johnson was physically forced to begin the activation process.

Recognizing that Truth was the enemy of both the Flood and the coalition of UNSC and Sangheili forces, the Gravemind proposed a temporary alliance.

Meanwhile, Master Chief and Arbiter had just managed to get inside the Citadel when Flood forms suddenly dropped in front of them. They were about to kill them, but the Gravemind began to speak through one of them. It pointed out that both the Flood and the UNSC and Sangheili wanted Truth dead, and that they would have a better chance of achieving that goal if they temporarily worked together. Reluctantly, Chief and Arbiter agreed, and the two of them fought alongside Flood forms in order to finish off the last of Truth's forces that were defending him.

Upon reaching Truth, Arbiter stabbed him through the chest for betraying the Sangheili, and Master Chief used his human DNA to halt the activation of the rings as Johnson escaped with the Pelican. It is at this moment that the Gravemind turns on Chief and Arbiter, and the two of them are forced to fight their way back to the lift they took and jump down an escape shaft.

Cortana's plan is revealed

After escaping from the Flood, Chief and Arbiter open a nearby viewport in the side of the Citadel and are met with a partially-built Halo ring. This was Installation 08; its purpose was to replace Installation 04, which Master Chief had destroyed. One of The Ark's functions was to automatically rebuild a Halo should it ever be destroyed. 343 Guilty Spark caught up with the duo, and after a short discussion, it was decided that the ring would be activated. This was Cortana's plan; since the new ring wasn't in standby mode like all the other Halos, it could be fired independently of the others. Also, since all of the Flood were inside of The Ark's protective measures, the blast would wipe them out, while The Ark's shielding would contain it, thus ensuring that only the Flood would be destroyed.

However, they would need an Index in order to activate it. Luckily, Cortana still had the one from the original Installation 04, and so when Master Chief and Arbiter rescued her from the Flood's clutches within High Charity, she revealed this. After setting up High Charity's engines to blow, the trio made their way to the surface of the new Halo ring. Sergeant Johnson also followed suit. The remaining UNSC and Sangheili forces fled The Ark by taking a return portal back to Earth.

After reaching the new Halo, Chief, Arbiter, and Johnson fought their way to the ring's Control Room past the last of the Flood's combat forces. When Johnson attempted to initiate the activation sequence, 343 Guilty Spark stopped him, explaining that they couldn't fire the ring yet because it would destroy it since it wasn't fully completed. Johnson ignored him because they couldn't afford to let the Gravemind gather more strength by waiting, and since it was 343 Guilty Spark's new directive to protect the ring that was replacing the original, this angered him. In a rage, Guilty Spark mortally wounded Johnson with a laser blast to the chest. Master Chief managed to kill him with repeated Spartan Laser shots, but by that point, it was too late for Johnson. As he died, Chief and Arbiter began the activation sequence for the ring and began to flee.

As Installation 08 began to fire and shake itself to pieces, Master Chief and Arbiter reached a Warthog and drove at breakneck speed to the nearby landed Forward Unto Dawn UNSC frigate, which they were going to use to escape. They managed to reach the ship just in time, and as the Arbiter reached the controls to take off, Chief watched as the ring completed its activation, completely destroying itself and every living creature still within The Ark's protective field. However, as the ship entered the return portal to Earth, the unstable event caused it to suddenly close, splitting the ship in two; the Arbiter made it through, but Chief and Cortana were left behind in the other half of the Forward Unto Dawn, left to drift into space.

March 3, 2553 CE: The fight is finished

A memorial to fallen — and missing — heroes.

A memorial to fallen — and missing — heroes.

Roughly three months after the end of the conflict on The Ark, the UNSC held a memorial service for all of the heroes who were killed or deemed missing-in-action during the Human-Covenant War and the conflict with the Flood. Though they no longer had a common enemy, the UNSC and Sangheili remained close, keeping their shaky alliance intact. Lord Hood lamented that he could never forgive the Sangheili for what they did to humanity during the war, but he thanked Arbiter nonetheless for his help in the final hour, and for sticking with Master Chief until the end.

With the war over, Arbiter and the Sangheili returned home.

With the wars against both humanity and the Covenant over, the Sangheili decided that their best course of action would be to return to their homeworld of Sanghelios and begin to forge their own destiny, free from the lies and manipulation of people like The Prophet of Truth. However, it would not be an easy road ahead for anyone. Decades of war had left humanity broken and on the brink, and due to serving strictly as soldiers for countless generations, the Sangheili would have to learn how to live independently from the Covenant Empire once more. For years to come, both humanity and the Sangheili would face many a hardship.

Your thoughts

What did you think of the plot of Halo 3? Let me know what you think. Personally, it's one of my least-favorite Halo stories, as it has more holes in its plot than swiss cheese. Still, though, it's a fun story, and there's plenty to love about Halo 3.

Great Halo games

All the greatest Halo games are available now on Xbox and are heading to PC too throughout 2019 and beyond.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection ($30 at Microsoft)

The Master Chief Collection is a fantastic game that lets you experience the entirety of Master Chief's saga in one convenient package.

Halo Wars 2 ($40 at Microsoft)

Halo Wars 2 is arguably the best real-time strategy title on Xbox One, offering players a wealth of incredibly satisfying, Halo-themed content.

Halo 5: Guardians ($20 at Microsoft)

Halo 5: Guardians is the latest Halo first-person shooter title, and it's got plenty of good content within that most players will have a good time with.

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Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.